Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Benefits of Transitions



Last post, I promised I would share my second technique that helps me maintain productivity. The first was giving myself small (or relatively small) rewards. But the second, is creating transition rituals to signal my brain it’s time to write. I call them Signal Rituals. Go figure. :o)

It’s a fact that our minds have to switch their mental gears to function optimally. One of the best ways you can help your brain do that is to create patterns in your life that identify a change from one activity to the next. For example, a lot of writers I know play a game of Words with Friends or jump on their email or facebook or blog then rev up to write.

That doesn’t work for me. I could stay for hours once there. (I have limited will power).

So I use glasses of water. I know when I fill a little cup of water up and drink it dry, it’s time to get my brain in the game of writing. I also use water drinking to signal time to exercise, time to get-the-kids-ready-for-school rush, and for my daily devotional time. Other rituals I use are: lighting a candle or other special lighting (like a lamp), music for the writing mood, spray on a good smell or put an oil in a diffuser, or breathing exercises.

It really doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s consistent and quickly accomplished.

After all, we use transitions with scenes in our stories, wouldn’t it make sense to use transitions for the scenes in our lives? :o)

Merry Christmas to you all!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Benefits of Small Rewards



Eep! I’ve gone a whole month again without posting. Of course, this time it was because I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), have had SEVERAL flu bugs attack me and my kids, and then my parents came for Thanksgiving, which became strictly family time (a good thing).

Enough with the excuses, though, I want to talk about NaNo. Yes, I did it! I won! And best of all, I finished a book I wanted to finish two and a half years ago. As another major positive, I established a daily writing habit I’m happy to have back in my life. The win-wins of NaNo!

I read somewhere that only about 14% of the people who sign up for NaNo actually finish it. That’s extremely low but hey—it’s an extreme ambition to write 50,000 words in one month. Most of us have lives beyond the keypad.

In light of that low statistic, I wanted to share two things that helped me see my goal through because they can apply to any goal-setting endeavor. The first was giving myself small (or relatively small) rewards. Second, I created transition rituals to signal my writing time. Today, I’m going to talk about rewarding only. Next post I’ll talk about signal rituals.


Some rewards I used or thought about using for daily or hourly milestones:
Soaking in a bath or hot tub
Spritzing a favorite smell (trust me—this is a sense that is far too ignored. A good smell can lift your soul out of any dungeon.)
Listening to a favorite song
Taking a short nap
Permitting myself to make random lists or free journal writing (I love making lists)
Volunteering time in my son’s class
Mind wandering for a few minutes (For some people, a 5 minute break for every 25 minutes of focused work helps. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique.)
Checking facebook/email/twitter etc. for a few minutes
Engaging in some breathing exercises
Lighting a candle
Sitting on the patio to soak up the sun rays
Sipping a cup of tea or a Pellegrino soda.

For big milestones, I did things like:
Go on a dinner date with my spouse
Go to lunch with my friends
Go to the movies
Go shopping without the kids
Go to a favorite hiking spot
Reorganize a pantry/cupboard or space I that was bothering me
Redecorate my desk
Buy a new essential oil and use it

You would need to think up your own rewards, but giving yourself a little pleasure is a huge benefit. It pushes productivity and it doesn’t have to be just one more thing to spend money on if you are creative.

As I was preparing this post, I came across this great article in Psychology Today about how little rewards can boost our enthusiasm about a task. A good read!

XO

Monday, November 5, 2012

Work for our future selves


I am writing a new novel right now for National Novel Writing Month and this quote has been on my mind.


What about you, anything thoughts on this quote?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lenny: My Favorite (Now) 13 Year Old

13 Years Ago Today....

An Amazing Person Was Born.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LENNY LEE!!!!

video


(Sorry for the rushed video--my mom and I made a different one for you on our vacation in Maine, but I couldn't get it to work. Boo! I'll have to work on recovering it for another day.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

THRILLERS, SPILLERS, & FILLERS



On Saturday my husband and I went to a Master Gardener’s conference. It was a fun and informative meeting! I was grateful to spend that time together and learn so much in the process.

In the container gardening workshop the little lady who taught it used a great three word way to remember how to make garden pots look great:

1st use a….


  • THRILLER (The focal, stand-out plant. It can be arranged centrally or towards the back or the side. Usually it’s an upright plant.)
  • SPILLERS (These are vining or creeping plants that are allowed to spill over the edge of the container.)
  • FILLERS (They are the pretty, contrasting yet complimenting plants that fill all the spaces in between the thrillers and spillers so that no bare ground shows. You want your container to look like it’s been in the container for months.)


photo credit: country road greenhouses


This three fold approach made me really think about how I lived my life, especially on a day to day basis. Do I make sure one, focal thing in my day—a bright spot that makes me happy and draws my attention to the things that matter most to me is present? And do I carefully plant spillers—activities that overflow into beautiful things for other’s lives? Then do I fill the remainder of the space in my days with actions that add contrast and compliment to what I want for my life and my family’s lives?

I am reminded of a similar analogy that was used by Stephen Covey: begin by filling a jar with big rocks, then pebbles, then sand then use water to fill the air spaces that nothing else can fit into.You will be surprised how much can fit into the space.

We can fit all sorts of good things into our lives if we try daily and consistently to work around the focal points that bring us true joy. Then fill in the spaces with good, purposeful things.

My goal for the month: Savor those big, bright spots of my life!

Happy Thursday, my friends!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Living the Creative Life



I think we as human beings crave creativity. We want to do things with our hands, our minds, and our bodies that demand absolute self-expression. The building of something out of nothing. The form we take to create that something, though, is up to the individual. Curiosity plays a huge role in living a creative life because it lights the spark of creativity. Habit is the fuel feeding the spark.

My family has many interests (so many that I’m turning the garage into an art/wood working studio just for them). For me, however, nothing captivates my sense of curiosity and sparks my desire to be creative like writing. If I’m writing everyday, then habit is keeping me aflame. If I yield to self-criticism, doubt, worry over what others think, and fear of failure, then creativity is snuffed out.

Perhaps I’m the only one that is affected by doubt and fear, but if not, here are a few things I’m trying to keep from losing my creative spark:

1.       ACCEPT. A first go at something is never going look perfect but it is going to be perfect because all it has to do is exist outside of your imagination to be what it is supposed to be. Art is handmade and missteps are proof it is a one of a kind (yes, even drafts count here).
2.       SCRAP BOOK. Now, I don’t like scrapbooking, but I do keep efiles of pictures and journals with quotes, notes, research, ticket stubs, and whatever else could potentially ignite ideas. No judging ever takes place in the journals because all it has to do is put my cluttered ideas somewhere other than in my brain where I might forget. They are something visually before me whenever I want them.
3.       DROP IT. Make sure your chosen form of creative expression is interesting to you. If it’s not, drop the project. (For example, I just said I don’t like scrap booking, but I did try it. All those cute little stamps I ended up being donated to my sister to make room for things I do find interesting.) Make space physically and mentally for outlets you truly find fascinating. Life is too short to do otherwise.
4.       USE YOUR FRIENDS/FAMILY. Some of you know my mom has terminal cancer and on bad days there are few things she feels up to doing. But she can type a poem! So we exchange poetry (nearly) every day. The goal is to not edit it but rather send it out to each other as is—first draft—warts and all. Knowing they are rough helps us lower our expectations as to how good the poetry will be. The other benefit? It has been a sweet and strengthening thing we could do together. The miles don’t seem as far between us when we are speaking to each other’s souls with poetry.
5.       FAIL SPECTACULARLY. When learning a new creative craft, there is usually a huge curve. In that curve are dips that look like failure. But we can grow from these “failures”! And if we acknowledge it as par for the course, we can be more lighthearted about it as it comes. (Also, the sting from rejections won’t hurt as bad when we know we are growing from them.)
6.       BUY SUPPLIES. Once you are sure what truly fascinates you, get the supplies. My kiddos love every new unit in their art class because they get to browse the supply store. Make sure, though, you don’t buy things just to buy things. And when you do need to buy supplies, do it right before you start the project. Buying things you don’t end up using will zap your creativity with anxiety because it will be a constant reminder of a project you didn’t follow through with. So buy needful things for creativity only. (I also buy books on the topics and on creativity itself*.)

Living a creative life is so rewarding when we are true to ourselves and what brings us fulfillment. Once we find those special things, building them into our lives habitually keeps them just as fresh as if they were a new-found interest.

Q4U: What kinds of things bring creative fulfillment into your life? Or What are some creative activities you would like to work into your life someday? (Cycling and getting back to the piano and violin top my list!)

*Some great books on creativity:
Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp


Also, we have WINNERS of the signed books!

        Adam Rex’s Cold Cereal goes to Kristi Thom
Robin Brande’s Fat Cat goes to Sharon Mayhew
        Amy Fellner Dominy‘s OyMG goes to Angie Lofthouse

Congrats, ladies!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

THE POWER OF HINDSIGHT


There is great strength in reviewing our recent pasts. Since hindsight is 20/20, we have a clear vision of where we are and where we have been. Here are a few ways I have been using reflection on the past to improve the present.

NOVEL PLOTTING
I have had a hard time identifying the weakest scenes in a manuscript. This week I put all the scenes on 3x5 cards, color coded the highlight points of my story, and laid them all out in order. Then it was easy! I could see what my chapter outlines weren’t showing me: plot holes, incongruities, and weak scenes. I think I could not see those things in an outline because the scenes psychologically feel so fixed on paper to me. Index cards are things I think my brain knows I can toss, add to, or rework freely. Now I’m working on cutting out those scenes and replacing them with stronger story moments. It has made revision not such the slog it has been so far on this book.

DAILY REVIEW
The biggest crusher of my soul in the day is my tendency to overwhelm myself. Sometimes I go to bed so discouraged I haven’t crossed off all I wanted to accomplish. But if I consistently spend 5 minutes each day recording 3 good things about the day, I am much happier. Sometimes those things are things I have accomplished or am grateful for, others are cute things my kids did or said. The latter may not be an achievement, but indirectly it helps me reaffirm I must be doing something right for them to be such wonderful people. Some days this list comes easy. Some days it’s like pulling out an ingrown hair. But if I look, I always find the bright spots! An additional benefit to this habit is I have a ready-made journal for my children to someday help them remember the beauties of their childhood. (And a way for them to get to know the inner me a little better.)

YEARLY REVIEW
Every January and September I set major goals for myself. Sometimes they get accomplished, sometimes other priorities win out as the year goes on. I get discouraged. Almost every December and August. Until I review my year and write down all I DID accomplish. Often it might not be what I set out to do but it is often what I SHOULD have done.

Life moves forward and sometimes we run to stand still, so the more joy and enlightenment we can squeeze out of the jog, the better. For a Type A personality like me, pondering on the past helps me live with a lighter heart in the present.

Q4U: Do you review your recent pasts? (Or re-map your manuscripts, for you writers out there?) If so, do you think it helps you?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Test of Character

Last week I took a character test

Why? Because a friend and I were discussing how important it is to know what your strengths are to a) cultivate those strengths and b) know how to help and compliment other’s strengths once you know how YOU operate. It was an interesting discussion and since I took the test, I’ve notice the truth of this. For example, one of my top three strengths was “LOVE” (meaning l highly value loving others and being loved by others) while my husband would not have this as his top value because he could care less if he has anyone in his life but me and the kids. Yet my nature strengthens him and our relationship, which makes him more loving towards our little family. And I’m sure if he took the test there would be many of his strengths that help me. (I’m positive his LOVE OF LEARNING would shine through and show how we both encourage each other to cultivate new hobbies and reading. I would never have had the courage to try publishing my writing without his support.)

The second thing the character test did was force me to ask myself:

What are some areas I need to improve?

AND

Do my core values align with my actions?

Some of the answers surprised me. First, I had three things tie for the top spot: LOVE, LOVE OF LEARNING, and SPIRITUALITY. These weren’t too much of a surprise. My weakest strength (ha! Sounds funny….) did, though, but it shouldn’t have: SELF-REGULATION. I have such awful will power and it was eye-opening to see it come out in the test.

Now I’ve decided this is where I need to work the most. I see myself slipping often in little ways that add up to big dips in my contentment. So, my goal this fall is to regulate myself better by focusing on some things I have wanted to improve in my life by:
  1. Email and social networking fasts until afternoon.
  2. Exercise everyday (but Sunday), even if it is only for 10 minutes of stretching.
  3. Drink more water.
  4. Write for 2 hours a day, either 9-11 or 1-3. More than that is gravy.
  5. Only eat meat 3 nights/week.
  6. Pray every morning. Alone in my closet. Without distractions.
  7. Sweets only on the weekends.
  8. Shut down the computer by 9 o’clock pm.
I know that seems like a lot but there were even more I wanted to add to the list. I like goals. I like working towards positive changes. (And extreme goal setting might be just what I need.) This is because when I am in control of myself, I feel good. It makes me happy. When I am not, it affects all aspects of my life.

The character test gave me a window into myself that was so uplifting. Both to see the good and the bad because it helped me know where I am at in developing the ME I want to be and how far I still need to go. The good thing is I never want to stop trying to better myself, though. So I always expect to find out I’m a work in progress. I am a character in the making. And to me that is a good thing.

What about you? Do goals make you happy? Are you working towards any? If so, do you think they strengthen your character?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hallmarks of Happiness

Lately I have been extremely happy. I feel guilty admitting that when I know so many people who are struggling right now. But why am I so happy? I had to ask myself the same thing because I had no idea. There really has been no change in my situation—no dramatic shift in my circumstances. I still have three children, live in the same house, and am married to the same guy— essentially the same routine I have had for the last three years. So I did what I do best:

I made a list of what makes me happy.

(Yes, my husband makes fun of my love of listing. Rightfully so. It’s chronic.)

I speed-wrote 30 things. The list came surprisingly fast—I was done within 5 minutes—but the most surprising thing was the list was full of things I had never considered before because they seemed so minor. They weren’t things I think of as “happy” at first, but rather peaceful things that bring me contentment. So I began researching what others considered happiness. Turns out quite a few people consider the quiet day-to-day joys as true happiness. My discovery wasn’t so ground breaking after all! But to me, the best part was finding out my particular list was generally things I could enjoy any time I wished.

And in case you are curious, I’ll throw my heart out here…

A sampling:
  • The smell of spruce, lavender, or vanilla
  • Planning a new adventure—whether in real life or in a book I want to write
  • Snuggling with the toddler
  • Making lists!
  • Talking to my mom
  • Listening to the music for the mood I’m in
  • Truly listening to my children’s laughter
  • Planting something in good, dark soil
  • Stretching—I love it more than the exercise!
  • Me, a kayak, and a calm water for silently watching wildlife
  • Making things with my own hands
  • An organized closet
  • Eating a slow dinner as a family
  • Acoustic guitar music
  • Looking at a wall full of books
  • Freshly-laundered sheets
  • Writing first drafts
  • Sitting at an outdoor bistro
  • Walking a dog
  • Taking a warm shower/bubble bath
You get the idea….

Notice most of my hallmarks of happiness were not only everyday things but came from homey comforts. I didn’t appreciate that home is such a source of joy before!* Just recognizing this has given me even more happiness in my life and helped me to be grateful for those small moments of beauty I overlook everyday. (Especially at home, because I used to not be a big home-body.)

Q4U: If you wrote a five minute list of 30 things that made you happy, what would be on it?

* SIDE NOTE: After I wrote my list, I began researching happiness and came across the amazing Gretchin Rubin and her blog. And just in time too! Because she has a book coming out next week which records her project to create more Happiness at Home. I can’t wait to read it. Check it out if you are interested!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Return to Joyful Blogging

I began blogging back in January of 2008. It was back when my little son had miraculously pulled through health problems at birth and everything about a “normal” life as a mom felt rosy. I was happy to be alive and healthy. And I was happy my children were alive and healthy. Nothing could be sweeter than a mundane schedule that did not involve a hospital.

I was also getting back to writing after weeks and weeks of bed rest. It felt good. It felt like a brave new world where words were perfect without the scrutiny of trying to get published. Just the simple action of writing a novel and a blog with doe-eyed naïveté was exciting. I felt like I was true to myself and to my friends that read my blog.

Now life has become really busy and my posts fewer and fewer. I stress about my online absences but they can’t be helped. I stress that each post has to be something dramatic—a masterpiece worthy of my reader’s time. Somehow the pressure has made me feel not much like me anymore. The self-imposed strain has sucked dry the joy I used to have in blogging. Months have gone by and this will be my first post since (gasp!) February. I miss it. I miss you, my friends. And fortunately Wednesday nights have opened up so I can fill that missing. My posts will only be once a week—probably very short—but I am determined not to pressure myself anymore about the quality or quantity of the content here. Now that the joy is back, I set some ground rules for myself so I don’t lose it again.

  1. The number of followers does not matter. I’m sorry if it’s a pain that I deleted my follower box, but I can’t look at it anymore. I don’t want the number to matter to me. I still, however, want to visit your websites and follow you. Please leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to drop by your cyber house. Also, there is no pressure to subscribe, but I put it there in case anyone really feels the need.
  2. I have many interests and I’m hoping to post about all of them here, not just writing. (I can only blog about the writing part of my life so long before I run out of unique things to say….)
  3. I have to meet my writing quota first. For writers, writing a book should always take precedence over writing a blog post. At least it has to for me because I am a slow writer.
  4. Be me. All posts will be honest and authentic. What you see is what you get. For good or ill….

Basically it just feels sooooooo good to be back. I’m happy to be able to reach out again. Because that is what true blogging feels like to me—opening up my heart and hugging the universe. I love my blogging friends. I look forward to making new friends. Blogging has brought me many wonderful friends already and I am ecstatic to reconnect.

To celebrate a return to blogging, I’m giving away books. SIGNED, new books!
            Robin Brande’s Fat Cat
            Adam Rex’s Cold Cereal
            Amy Fellner Dominy‘s OyMG

All you have to do is leave me a note telling me what you have been up to the last 7 months I’ve been absent and which book you would prefer.

(And in case you wondered what I have been doing the last few months: I took a Master Gardener certification class, revised the novel that has been turning my hair grey(er), did a bit of volunteer work, and landscaped my yard. So all good, happy stuff! Yay!)

Thanks for coming back!!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Baby Steps of Writing #6: Laying Down the Highlights


Starting a novel can be intimidating. Finishing even more so. It is my hope that this series will help other soon-to-be or wanna-be writers find a place to begin a novel and better yet, empower them to finish. Here you will find all the advice I wish someone would have given me when I first started writing fiction.

Today is the day! For those of you who like discovering your story as you go (pantsters), this is the last step you should take in preparing a plot for your novel. Granted, some of you might think this is too much structure, but I think this format still leaves a lot of room for surprises. There are many formats out there, but I like this one because it highlights each major point of your story:

Inciting incident (II)
This incident (usually a full scene) should grip your reader and not let them go. The general rule of this scene is an eruption in your character’s normal life. We see action or trouble brewing. We see how the character responds to the trouble as they are now, before they change throughout the story. This scene doesn’t have to be a full-on explosion, but it should have undertones or overtones of unease in the character’s regular world. Also, the sooner you start your inciting incident, the more exciting your story will be. And the sooner you will hook the reader in.

First Plot Point (PP1)
The difference between the first plot point (PP1) and the inciting incident (II) is sometimes confusing. The PP1 has everything to do with the plot while the II doesn’t necessarily have to be. I could go on and on about PP1s, but I’ll just say that they are the point where the main character chooses to move forward from what their world once was to what it has become. This can be a huge and dramatic change or a quieter, “okay, I’m going to do this”. In a typical hero’s quest story, the hero’s main world has been turned upside down. In the first novel I ever wrote, the main character climbs a ridge and looks down either side of the ridge: the direction she is going and the direction she has been. She dithers about pushing forward or going back. (Cliché, I know.) But I tell you this because at the time I wrote the scene, I didn’t know I was putting in a classic PP1 because I didn’t know what a PP1 was. I did it instinctively. Some of you might find you have been doing the same thing: writing classic elements into your story with out consciously putting them in there. Once you are aware of the elements, the chances of them being clean and purposeful (vs. sloppy and over-the-top like mine was) are better.

Second Plot Point (PP2)
Now that your character has made the decision to move forward, he is going to have some growing pains. Growing pains mean hard things are in the future. Hard things mean conflict, which makes a story a story. As the first big obstacle, PP2 escalates the conflict between the hero and the villain, the hero and himself, or the hero and their unrequited love. Or all three. Each story is unique enough that you’ll need to find where the first big obstacle is and how it’s going to kick your story into a higher gear.

Middle Point (MP)
When I think of the middle, I think of chucking on my backpack and preparing to hoof it up a mountain. It is the gear up for the intensity about to come at the end. The middle point is where you hinge the beginning to the end and sometimes it can be the hardest part to write. Like a clothes line, the story may slouch right there in the middle. It happens to even great authors. The best way to evaluate your middle point is to see if it feels like a “deep breath before the plunge,” as Gandalf would say. (Yeah, I know I’m a nerd.)

Third Plot Point (PP3)
This is the all-is-lost scene. Here is the point where we wonder how in the world the character is going to recover from the blow you have just given him. The character is brought lower than low. Readers need to feel a sense of hopelessness to some degree. It will make the ending all the more satisfying.

Circle the Wagons (CTW)
As soon as the character limps away from the all-is-lost scene, it’s time to circle the wagons and start seeing with new eyes. The character develops a new desire to conquer and they have a new approach to see it through. Hang on to your hats because now the character is planning and things are going to get intense.

Climax A (XA)
Now it’s time to light the fuse. Some event needs to ignite the big blow coming between the character and their adversary (whether internal or external).

Climax B (XB)
Things are about to explode and you need to build up the suspense so that the reader won’t put the book down and go to bed. The fuse it lit and it’s burning down the wire.

Climax C (XC)
Kaboom! The biggest, most intense event of the book needs to occur here. The dynamite explodes and most of the time, you know what the event will be before you even sit down to write. However, before you write it, ask yourself, “What is the worst, most dramatic thing that can happen to the character(s) here?” and “What biggest obstacle can he/she conquer?” Then evaluate if you have done this scene the justice it deserves.

Denouement
The ride has been fun, but now give the reader a short breather. This is the section where Dumbledore explains some things to Harry. Here is where all the loose ends are tied up and we understand things we did not before.

Resolution
End the story. Nicely. Swiftly. Satisfyingly. A good ending is the deal maker if the reader is going to tell their friends about your book or not. There really is nothing else to say except that if the end satisfies you, hopefully it will satisfy others. It may be happy or it may be bittersweet, but it should always end hopeful in some way. Get a second reader and see if they agree with your satisfaction.

So what do you think? Is this a helpful way to think of the major elements of your book?

Last weekend I went to a Young Adult writer’s workshop in Phoenix. It was wonderful to be there in the presence of so many authors I admire. One thing I heard from many of them was that they used to be fond of just sitting down and writing a book. Now they have learned the value of preparation, whether in outline form or in a 40 page or so synopsis. I am learning this too.  And oh, man! How I wish I would have done more outlining in the book I’m revising now because I’m so slow at revisions. When I don’t plan well, I find that I have to rewrite more. That is okay for some people but I struggle with revision because I am a perfectionist. Plus I want to write so many books that I just want to get them out into the world.

So, if you want to outline more, stay tuned for scene by scene outlining and other TBA baby steps of writing. Happy Monday!

P. S. If you need more help seeing how these elements fit into your book specifically, I would be happy to help you. Just email me. My address is on the side. Over there. ------------------->

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Perfect Pitch Entry

Hooray! I just found out about Brenda Lee's great Perfect Pitch Contest and had to enter. Namely because the agent is one of the coolest agents from one of the coolest agencies. Go check out all the great entries! (And if you are here for more Baby Steps of Writing, there will be more of those the end of the week! <3)


Title. Jedda Hitler: Traitor to the Party
Genre. YA Historical Adventure
Word Count: 65,000 words

Pitch. Raised, groomed, and kept apart, Jedda Hitler was her grandfather’s personal project to prove that even a small girl could be turned into a killing machine.

Excerpt:
Grandfather would never have allowed such incompetence in his army. That is all I have to say about him. He is no longer my concern.
Right now I have only to save myself.
Sagging belly and paunchy eyes, my jailer leans carelessly against the bathroom wall. He is a Brown Shirt, Nazi paramilitary. But where discipline was once religion, it is replaced by indolence. He disgusts me.
He would not be so at ease if he knew how loose his men tied my wrists.
I could kill him now if I wished.
But I want information.
“Give me your name.” His voice echoes. We are underground, in a tunnel. He believes he is the one interrogating.
“Your name!”
“I think you already know,” I say.
A self-satisfied tightness crosses his lips. He has his prize.
“Where are we?” I ask, doing my best to appear dazed.
“North of Mosbach.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Baby Steps of Writing #5: Telescoping Your Plot

Starting a novel can be intimidating. Finishing even more so. It is my hope that this series will help other soon-to-be or wanna-be writers find a place to begin a novel and better yet, empower them to finish. Here you will find all the advice I wish someone would have given me when I first started writing fiction.

The next baby step we are discussing is how to look at the big picture of your plot and then shorten your scope until you get to the details. Now, if you know outlining story details sucks the joy out of writing for you, don’t follow along these exercises. Read along and think about what each of these highlights is in your own story without delving too deep. If you don’t know if plotting will help or hinder your writing, I plead with you to try. Plotting can do for writer’s block what splashing cold water on your face does to sleep. It will pull you out of the slogging, foggy mind of STUCK.

First thing to do is pull out your banner and reread it. Do you feel that stirring of excitement you originally felt when the Shiny New Idea came to you? Do you remember the vision you have for the story? Have you a direction to move the idea forward into STORY? If not, here’s a neat little trick I learned from Janette Rallison at a writing conference recently (though she attributed to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Author). It’s kind of like a Mad Lib, but with an important purpose:
When _______ (insert Main Character’s name) finds herself in _______ (insert Situation here) she ______ (insert Goal here) but will __________ (insert antagonist or obstacle to goal here) make her ______________ (insert consequence of goal failure here)?

CHARACTER + SITUATION + GOAL + OBSTACLE + DISASTER = A READY TO ROLL STORY!

So did that come easily for you, even if it wasn’t pretty enough to put in a query letter?

If yes, then you are ready to think about the story framework, the structure that holds the words together to make a great experience for the reader. Generally learned like this in grade school:


Have you figured this out for your story too? If not, then time to stew over it, to discover where each major acceleration in the plot should be and where things should slow down a bit. Think about that escalation this week and then next week we will telescope in further with the following structure.

Inciting incident (story hook, attention-getter, or a problem eruption)
Plot Point 1 (character’s world turned upside down, their choice to move forward is made)
Plot Point 2 (first big obstacle)

Middle Point (the gear up for serious obstacle confrontation also the joint to hinge on the beginning with the end)
Plot Point 3 (all-is-lost obstacle)
Climax A (lighting the fuse)
Climax B (watching it burn)
Climax C (kaboom!)
Denouement (wind down)
Resolution (satisfying end)


Next up, we will dive into more detail of each item on the list! Happy new (writing) year to all!